Tag Archives: artisan

Mamoosh pittas and the question of artisan food

Real pittas from Mamoosh

When making food by hand to sell direct to the public, one thing you will almost certainly argue about with yourself – and possibly with friends and family too – is pricing. Despite Britain being a place where we idolise chefs, buy recipe books in bulk, sit glued to food-themed TV, and like to fantasise about the artisan food producer life, most people still buy most of their food from supermarkets. And supermarkets are very much a product of the post-World War 2, post-rationing hunger for cheapness and plenty, quantity over quality.

Any artisan food producer has to compete with this.

Einat Chalmers of Mamoosh rolling pittas

Einat Chalmers runs Mamoosh1 out of small bakery within an industrial in Newhaven, on the East Sussex coast. Her main product is pitta2 bread. She sells four for £2. This seems like a bargain to me, but then I’m a middle-class stereotype who tries to eschew industrial food. People, even friends, criticised my prices when I sold Italian biscuits on the market, but my margins were very narrow, and the time it takes to handmake real food is a world away from the time it takes for a factory to spit out industrial food.

Scaling brioche buns by hand

Einat has some professional kit but is essentially making her pitta by hand: dividing the dough, shaping the balls, feeding a small dough roller, laying them on trays to prove, then dropping them onto her new addition: a proper pitta oven. Then removing them by hand too. With a supermarket’s pitta, the dough is almost certainly not touched by hand at all as it moves through an automated production process in a factory, not a bakery.

And frankly supermarket pitta tastes like cardboard; a conclusion I reached years ago and one that’s affirmed every time I eat Einat’s bread. Never mind that many will find the result indigestible; not because they can’t eat wheat, but because industrial bread doughs simply aren’t proved for long enough.

Mamoosh brioche buns

Einat, who grew up in the north of Israel close to Lebanon, sells her delicious pitta on the markets in Lewes. They’re a key part of my family’s diet these days. My fussy son calls it “pocket bread” and it’s a good way to get him to eat something filling. Einat also makes brioche buns to supply The Pig and Jacket, who do pulled pork and hog roast, and croissants and Danish, which she sells at the smaller market in Newhaven. She says she turns out up to around 250 brioche buns and 900 pitta a week but is gradually expanding. The latter production is helped by that pitta oven.

Mamoosh croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish pastries proving

I’ve never seen one before but it’s a great bit of kit, gas elements heat a large rotating disc of cast iron from below, while other flames brown the pittas from above. Einat says she was encouraged to invest in one by her restaurateur father in Israel, and when I visited the bakery I got a great sense of its efficacy. It heats to about 450-500C (a temperature similar to that found in a wood-fired pizza oven) in about 10 minutes. About a dozen pittas can fit on the disc and the rotation takes about a minute. The results are great: pocketed but puffy and tender, an entirely different animal to the abovementioned cardboard pittas more familiar to British supermarket shoppers. They may cost about 50p for six, but to my mind that’s a false economy: not only are they poor quality in terms of ingredients and production process, they’re also barely edible for anyone who’s even vaguely discerning about the bread they eat.

Pitta oven

Einat, who trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute and interned in bakeries in New York in the late 1990s, taught herself sourdough and pitta at home. She’s lived in Sussex with her Scottish husband for about 15 years and worked on and off for Brighton’s Real Patisserie before starting her pitta business. I think she’s really onto something. I urge anyone who’s in Lewes for the food markets to check out her pitta, they’re one of those foods that very tellingly highlights the difference between real, handmade products and industrial crap. One of those products that, in a mouthful, qualifies and justifies the price differences3.

Mamoosh pittas are available at the Friday morning food market, in the Lewes Market Tower, from Talicious falafel stall, or you can get them straight from Einat’s Mamoosh stall at the Lewes farmers market on the first and third Saturday of every month. I’m eating some now with some of my hummus as I hit “Publish”.

Pittas baking

Mamoosh pittas and other products are available (as of April 2017):
At the Lewes Farmers Market, morning of first and third Saturday of the month, the Precinct, High Street, Lewes BN7 2AN, where Einat has a stall.
At the Lewes Food Market, every Friday morning at the Market Tower, BN7 2NB.
At the Hillcrest Country Market, every Thursday morning, the Hillcrest Centre, Newhaven BN9 9LH.

Footnotes
1 Einat explains the name thus: “Mamoosh comes from the word mummy (mother), probably introduced by the Polish Jews and become part of the Hebrew slang. “e use it mainly as a slang for sweetie, darling, honey, dear.”

2 In English pitta or pita is borrowed from the modern Greek πίτα. As it’s a transliteration, presumably there are arguments for both spellings. Indeed, the Greek word can also be translated as pie or cake. Older etymology of the word is contested so can’t help.

3 This is a tangent but just to preemptively respond to any criticism that I’m writing simply from a naive middle-class position, here’s a little more food for thought. Many people say that only the better-off can eat what I call real foods, and the poorer are dependent on cheap industrial produce, often frozen or in the form of ready meals, from budget supermarkets etc. This is obviously a complex issue but a story I read in the i newspaper on 2 March seemed to confirm something I’ve long thought – if you base your diet on fresh veg, grains, pulses, don’t expect red meat with every meal and don’t throw away food (itself an enormous issue, and one of the things that will bring about the downfall of our society), you can eat more affordably.

The article quotes from a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), “the UK’s original free-market think-tank”, and its author says, “A diet of muesli, rice, white meat, fruit and vegetables is much cheaper than a diet of Coco Pops, ready meals, red meat, sugary drinks and fast food. The idea that poor nutrition is caused by the high cost of healthy food is simply wrong.” The IEA is not a body I know well, and it’s of neoliberal disposition and I’ve not read the original report, so I’m slightly wary of quoting from it.

11 Comments

Filed under Bakeries, Breads, Discussion, Food misc

Holey-er than thou

Holey bread 1

A lot of my recent bread has been fairly dense, with a close crumb. I like bread like this, especially with wholegrain breads like the 100% wholegrain wheat and spelt I’ve been making recently. They’ve tasted great and when fresh aren’t bad for open sandwiches and when a bit old they’re perfect for toast. But the favoured style of “artisan” bread these days is all about the open crumb. A nice crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with a variety of big holes.

I know I’ve made holey bread like that in the past, but, I dunno, through all my experiments the past few years with seriously rustic flours, bought from farmers’ markets in Rome and here in Sussex, I seem to have lost the knack slightly. Learning to bake is one of those life-long challenges, especially if you’re a home baker and aren’t churning out massive batches. But it’s funny to feel you’ve learned something then forgotten it again.

High extraction challenge
It does seem that holey breads are a particular challenge if you’re using flour with a high extraction rate. The extraction rate is the amount of the grain that remains in the milled flour. So a genuinely wholegrain flour in principle should be 100% extraction. Modern, industrial, nominally brown flours, however, may only be about 80-85% extraction, whereas white flours, which have been sieved or bolted1 may be closer to 70% extraction – with the bran and germ (ie, the healthiest bits) removed and just the starches and proteins remaining. 

I’m sure the masters of the contemporary bread scene, especially those who work with ancient and heritage grains (like Chad Robertson of Tartine and the bakers producing the great looking results of the Brockwell Bake) could get a nice open, irregular holey crumb from 100% extraction flours, but not me. The wholegrain flours I’ve been buying lately have been very branny, stoneground, and I suspect probably close to 100% extraction. They taste great, but I need to get at it to open that crumb out.

I did go back to a classic Dan Lepard 100% white sourdough recipe the other day, and did get a holey crumb. Bit it’s wholly too holey. Holey-er than though. With giant crazy giant holes. So I’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

I reckon the next few weeks, I’m going to try and make breads that are 50/50 white and wholegrain and try the so-called “no knead” method. This seems to be very popular among US bakers and does seem to give holey crumb loaves. It involves mixing up the dough, resting it, and giving it a few stretch-and-folds over time. This does seem very similar to Dan L’s method of mixing, doing a short knead, resting it, and doing another short knead, then repeating, as those kneads basically just involve folding over the dough. I generally use Dan L’s method, with a few stretch-and-folds anyway. And there’s arguably a fine line between “kneading” and “folding”.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my comically holey bread. The flour was nothing fancy2, but the loaves still tasted pretty good. Even if they weren’t idea for making sarnies.

Holey bread 2

 

1 Etymology geek chums, bolting generally means sieving – or indeed sifting – through cloth. The word comes from 12th century Middle English bulten, from the old French bulter, which is probably from the Old High German būtil, meaning bag.)

2 Strong white from Waitrose supermarket. Although Waitrose/John Lewis does has its own farm,  the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, my home county, and to the west of Sussex in the south of England, they don’t seem to grow wheat that produces a strong white bread flour. The Waitrose own brand strong white is “produce of more than one country” – they, and even the likes of Dove’s Farm and Shipton Mill, Britain’s two big organic flour brands, don’t seem to be forthcoming about which countries. Presumably Canada, Kazakhstan, India, etc. I’ve now ordered some strong white flour from Stoate & Sons now instead. I believe they do manage to locally source and mill  a strong, high protein variety of wheat  in Dorset, the next country along from Hampshire.)

5 Comments

Filed under Baking, Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain